You and your husband sit broken hearted staring at an empty booth in a restaurant where you once shared sushi and laughter with friends who are now divorced. There is something very sad and disorienting about remembering two people in your life being together — who are now worlds apart. Because there is often so much heartache and division that happens within divorce, friends often feel compelled to pick sides, so the trial expands. Divorce does not just affect the immediate family; it becomes a trial that the extended community endures as well. One divorced person shared that even her neighbor started driving a block out of the way to exit the neighborhood as to avoid passing her house. There is no way around it; divorce hurts, and the people effected don’t quite know what to say, or how to act, which often results in wounding an already wounded friend in the throws of divorce.
One reason Christians might have a harder time than the secular world adjusting is because of our strong belief system. As believers we can come across dogmatic in our zeal to help reverse a friend’s failing marriage. But instead of helping, what we soon discover is that our friend withdraws further and further away from our attempts to fix. Relationships become conflicted as strong conviction mixes with broken reality. By default many times our divorced friends find themselves isolated in a season when community is desperately needed.
Unfortunately, divorce is not uncommon in the Christian community. The Barna Group found in its latest study that born again Christians who are not evangelical were indistinguishable from the national average on the matter of divorce with 33 percent having married and divorced at least once. Among all born again Christians, which includes Evangelicals, the divorce figure is 32 percent, which is statistically identical to the 33 percent figure among non-born again adults, the research group noted. With these numbers in mind, perhaps, we are well over-due in understanding how best to minister effectively to our friends who are divorced or are going through divorce.
There are many beneficial classes and workshops for divorced people, but there is little, if any, instruction on how friends of those going through divorce can best handle the fall out. One of the best ways to gain understanding in any arena is to go straight to the source. In our role to better understand what is helpful rather than hurtful, we can glean from those who have been affected by the ravages of pain and divorce in their own lives. I interviewed 3 deeply spiritual (divorced) Christians and asked them what they wish their friends knew that might have been instructive and helpful to them. I have summarized them into three points below:
1. Please be there for the kids
Call them, write a note, a text, take them to lunch or for ice cream. Tell them it’s not their fault and that their parents love them. And mostly, that God loves them and will take care of all their needs. We have a tendency as humans to be short-term in our efforts to minister to others, but for the children of divorce there is long term hurt. They often receive attention at the beginning that soon fades, but they remain vulnerable and disoriented. For divorced parents to have friends who care and invest in their children during this season is life-giving. Also, the church leadership should be diligent to see what needs the kids have, if they need counseling or any pastoral support.
2. Details are off limits, don’t pry
People can be intrusive, and the Christian community is no different. Yet, there are issues that divorced couples do not feel comfortable or safe sharing; they may be concerned about things like gossip, defaming an ex spouse or embarrassing the children. Most often people’s propensity to know more stems from a desire to find biblical answers to justify the divorce in our own minds. It’s the curious (or the legalist) in all of us as we try and make sense of what is happening. But in doing so we inadvertently make ourselves judge, which is a position that belongs to God alone. We can’t know all the details, and it’s okay that there are unanswered questions. God knows the whole picture and is sovereignly in control. We can gently and lovingly encourage pastoral counseling, but that’s as far as our quest must go. This frees us up to be a support system, advocate and friend, rather than an investigator. Our friends will share in their own timing those hurts that are on their heart.
3. Remember that divorce is a very real form of suffering
There is the old stigma and even in some cases the shaming of those who are going through divorce. It is a posture that would never be tolerated towards someone going through cancer, for example. But as we think about it, is physical illness not also a result of the fall, of our accumulated sin as fallen beings?
As friends of a Christian going through this, understanding that they are truly suffering will help us be more supportive and more Christ-like in our friendship. There is a profound sense of failure and shame already present in the heart of most Christians when they divorce; if it is absent, we can trust the Holy Spirit to bring conviction. Our job is to remember that this friend is really suffering, even when it is clearly their moral failure that has precipitated the event.
Wisdom from costly experience
Walking with a friend in the presence of divorce can feel awkward and confusing at times. We must be careful not to be so spooked by the “event” of divorce that we forget that there are real living, breathing people involved — people we know and love. Taking these valuable insights to heart, knowing they come from a place of pain and brokenness can help us as we extend a hand of grace to those who are in a season of divorce. Divorce will affect every person at some point in their lifetime; whether it be family, friend or neighbor. What a gift to be able to genuinely reach out into the lives of our friends when, perhaps, they need it the most but often receive the least.
Paula Masters is the author of “Exceptional Bloom: Coming Alive After fifty” and the founder of True Source Ministries, an online ministry to hurting women found at tsmwomen.org as well as next-is-now.com, an online community group for women over fifty. She stays connected with her readers on her “Over fifty and Fabulous” Facebook page and online at OverFiftyandFab.com.